Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Fight On- An Open Letter To Dave Cameron


It’s been a while since my last post, for which I apologize. I’ve been traveling around the UK and have been somewhat removed from both internet connections and the world of baseball. I’ll be back at the end of the month and return to posting more regularly.

However, Dave Cameron recently announced that he’s been diagnosed with an aggressive brand of leukemia, and as you’ll learn, this requires me to respond. Without Mr. Cameron, I don’t think I’d be doing what I do, and I think that’s true for many amateur sabermetricians plying their trades in various dark corners of the internet.

For the last decade-plus, Cameron has been enlightening the baseball world with revolutionary analysis in the virtual pages of such illustrious publications as Baseball Prospectus, the U.S.S. Mariner, FanGraphs, and the Wall Street Journal. Cameron has performed groundbreaking research in evaluations of an almost endless list of facets of the game we all love, including defensive evaluation, pitcher skill and development, roster management strategy, and about a billion other studies that have made the sabermetric community just a little bit smarter.

However, his most important contribution may be not in his own analysis, but in allowing others the ability to do the same. As the managing editor and operator of FanGraphs, Cameron and his colleagues make it possible for me to use the statistics I do in my analysis, and the same can be said for nearly every saber-blogger on the web. By making advanced statistics publicly available and creating a forum for discussion of these statistics, Cameron has displayed a commitment to making the best statistics and information in the baseball world available to anyone interested in seeking it out, free of charge. Though many sites provide high-level baseball analysis, no site has done better to bring this analysis and the underlying data that supports it to the masses than FanGraphs. Dave Cameron, as a contributor and leader of the site, has led this charge, and for that I owe him my sincerest gratitude. Over the past decade, sabermetrics has begun to move into the spotlight, gaining widespread acceptance and respect throughout the game of baseball. Throughout this transition, Cameron has been at the forefront of the field, and outside of Bill James, there may not be anyone who’s done more for the sabermetric community than he has. So, an open letter to Dave Cameron.

Dear Mr. Cameron,

I’m writing to express my gratitude for all that you’ve done for sabermetrics. Your analysis throughout your career has been nothing short of brilliant, your insight enlightening, and you have done it all while making your work accessible to those of us who may not be as well-versed in statistical methods as yourself and others at the head of the field. Though the advancement of the field of sabermetrics may rely on the most complex and in-depth statistical methods available, its mainstream acceptance relies on the ability to make these methods and the results they produce accessible to baseball fans who may not have a PhD in Statistics from MIT or a Harvard MBA. You have always been wildly successful at bridging this gap, expanding the audience for sabermetric analysis exponentially by producing groundbreaking work while explaining to your readers why that work matters and what it means in a way any baseball fan can understand if they simply take the time to listen. You write deftly for an audience at a variety of levels of understanding, without ever dumbing down your work at the expense of your analysis or allowing your explanation of your methods and results to seem patronizing. You are a shining example of a sabermetrician willing not only to learn but also to teach, and I can honestly say I wouldn’t be where I am without you.

If I’ve learned anything in my time analyzing baseball, it’s that this sport can teach you life lessons, even when you’re not looking for them. The most enduring images of the game involve the men that never gave up, who refused to resign themselves to defeat, and who believed that through hard work and mental toughness they could defy the odds. We can analyze and measure and study the game all we want, but when push comes to shove, the results that matter are the ones that happen on the field of play. We develop statistics and create models that explain likely outcomes, then root for our teams to defy these outcomes through a unique sort of magic, the kind that happens in the moment between the most dire situations and the most incredible conclusions. It’s the moment where Carlton Fisk wildly gyrates his arms as he begins to jump down the first base line, hoping for a stiff breeze or divine intervention. It’s the moment where Bobby Thompson’s shot is just a “long drive,” and every fan in the stadiums wonders if he could possibly have gotten enough air under it. It’s the moment where Kirk Gibson hobbles up to home plate, or Mookie Wilson rolls a dribbler down the first-base line. The numbers go out the window, and all that’s left is the will to keep fighting and the ability to maintain hope when all but the smallest glimmer is lost.

Mr. Cameron, keep fighting. The sabermetric community you helped build, the men and women you helped teach, and the fans you continue to enlighten at every turn are pulling for you.


Doug Wachter

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Your Guide to the 2011 Futures Game

On Tuesday night, the 2011 All Star game will take place. Of course, it’s supposed to be a battle of the biggest stars of the sport, and for the most part, it is. I’ll leave my reservations about the voting process for another day. MLB has done a great job advertising the Home Run Derby, which takes place the night before the Midsummer Classic. Of course, it’s a fun event, but it’s glorified batting practice. The most exciting event of the week, at least for the real baseball nerds such as myself, takes place a day before the Derby, as the future of the game is on display in the All-Star Futures Game.

Many of these players will go on to great careers. Looking at the MVPs of past futures games shows that these special prospects are just a step away from being special big-leaguers. Four of the six Larry Doby Award winners from 1999 to 2004 eventually made appearances in the MLB All-Star game, including Alfonso Soriano, Jose Reyes, Grady Sizemore, and Aaron Hill. Since then, emerging stars such as Billy Butler and Hank Conger have earned MVP honors, and the remainder of the rosters feature many budding superstars as well. This year’s rosters are no different, as several of the players in the 2011 Futures Game will be hoping to return to future midsummer exhibitions representing their respective Major League clubs. Listed here are just a few of the top prospects to watch on Sunday night.

USA Roster:

Shelby Miller, RHP, Cardinals
Miller has been dominant in both High-A and in Double-A, a level to which he was recently promoted. Miller, 20, has struck out 124 batters in 95.2 innings. Miller was ranked as Baseball America’s 13th best prospect in baseball before the season, and moved up to 7 in the recent midseason top 50. He features a mid-high 90s fastball with life, a big curveball, and a developing changeup that looks like it will be a weapon for him in the future, although he hasn’t been throwing it for long. Like many top pitchers, he didn’t need a changeup in high school, but he’s been working on the pitch and it should be a strong part of Miller’s repertoire by the time he’s ready for the majors, likely sometime next season.

Matt Moore, LHP, Rays
Moore was ranked as the 15th best prospect in baseball before this season, and his performance as a 22-year-old for Double-A Montgomery has moved him up to the 3 slot, as the best pitching prospect in baseball. Moore has rung up 125 batters in 96.2 innings at the level, and he’s also done a great job curtailing some of the control problems that held him back early in his career. After walking 5.1 batters per nine innings in 2009 and 3.8 in 2010, he’s now down to an impressive 2.4 BB/9. A steal in the 8th round of the 2007 MLB draft, he led the minors in strikeouts in each of the past two seasons, using mostly his mid-90s fastball, low 90s two-seamer, and a sharp, late-breaking slider. Like Miller, he’s working on his changeup, which is behind his other three pitches in terms of their development but should be another solid piece of his arsenal.

Drew Pomeranz, LHP, Indians
Pomeranz’s first big-league season is making it clear why the Indians tabbed him with the fifth overall selection of the 2010 draft, as he’s jumped all the way from 61 on Baseball America’s preseason list to 14 on the midseason rankings. Pomeranz has been tearing up High-A, striking out 95 and walking only 32 in 77 innings. He features a low-90s fastball with a ton of life and a nasty curve that is really his calling card. The 22-year-old Pomeranz could be due for a promotion soon. It’ll be interesting to see how he attacks some of the more polished World hitters, who will represent the best competition he’s seen thus far.

Jacob Turner, RHP, Tigers
At 20 years of age, Turner is one of the youngest players in Double-A, but he’s been dominating hitters several years his senior. Possibly the most polished 20-year-old pitcher in the minors (although he does still have some work to do in refining his command), Turner has notched 79 strikeouts against just 29 walks in 100.2 innings. He’s dealt with some injury issues, but when he’s on the mound, he’s looked nasty. He’s got a mid-to high 90s four-seam fastball with run, a low 90s two-seamer with a sinking action, and fairly well developed secondary stuff with a nasty curve and plus changeup, especially considering his age.

Devin Mesoraco, C, Reds
The 23-year-old is the reason the Reds may feel comfortable moving Ramon Hernandez at the deadline, as his replacement has looked ready for the bigs in Triple-A. Mesoraco has jumped from a preseason ranking of 64 in BA’s top prospects all the way to 15 in the midseason rankings. Mesoraco has a .303/.378/.510 line this year, showcasing a solid eye and powerful bat, and his defense has improved by leaps and bounds since he entered the Reds’ system in 2007, as he’s now a lock to stick behind the plate.

Manny Machado, SS, Orioles
Machado, the third overall pick of the 2010 draft, has been living up to the expectations that come with that high a selection. Rated 14th preseason and fifth in the most recent BA update, Machado’s .263/.369/.458 line at A and High-A shows impressive power and discipline for a shortstop, and he contributes on both sides of the ball with a strong glove. Only 19, he may not make it to Baltimore until the 2014 season, but when he does he’ll be an impact player at short.

Bryce Harper, OF, Nationals
The consensus top prospect in baseball, Harper was recently promoted to Double-A. The 18-year-old might be ready for the majors today, but the Nationals figure to take their time letting him develop, as the future of their franchise rides on his bat and Stephen Strasburg’s arm. Harper is in the upper echelon of top prospects, as his incredible polish and abilities at his young age rank him alongside A-Rod and Griffey as one of the best prospects of all time.

Wil Myers, OF, Royals
Myers fell slightly from his top-10 BA ranking preseason to 17 in the midseason update, largely due to his move from behind the plate into the outfield. Myers wasn’t much of a defensive catcher, and his bat will certainly play in right. His trademark power hasn’t shown up in Double-A this season, as he’s slugging .385 after putting up a .506 mark between A and High-A last year. Nevertheless, Myers is only 20, extremely young for the level, and he’s on track to follow the rest of the impressive Royals prospects to the majors next season.

A quick note: Angels centerfielder Mike Trout was originally selected for the game but was called up last week when Peter Bourjos hit the DL. Trout won’t play in the Futures game, but he’s certainly the future of the Angels franchise, and it would be something of a surprise if he didn’t make it back to the All-Star festivities in the future.

The top prospects for the World team:

Carlos Martinez, RHP, Cardinals
Martinez will oppose his future rotation-mate, Shelby Miller, and they’ll likely be pitching together on the Cardinals’ staff by the 2013 season. Only 19, Martinez recently earned a promotion to high-A by striking out 50 while walking only 14 in 38.2 innings in A ball. A native of the Dominican, Martinez’s fastball routinely hits the high 90s with cutting action. He’s working on his secondary stuff, which will be the key to his moving up the organization ladder, but several sources say his fastball is big-league ready now.

Martin Perez, LHP, Rangers
The 20-year-old Perez has been on the prospect radar for some time, as he was BA’s number 17 prospect before the 2010 season, ranked 24th before 2011, and is up to sixth in the midseason update. The Venezuelan is one of the youngest players in Double-A, but that hasn’t stopped him from striking out 83 in 88.1 innings, while walking 36. He’s got great command of his 93-mph fastball, a pitch that has some nasty tailing and sinking action. He’s still working on commanding his curveball, but it’s got some nasty break and should be a plus pitch for him, and he also features a changeup that will likely be serviceable for him.

Julio Teheran, RHP, Braves
A Colombian native, Teheran was rated the 5th best prospect in baseball before the season, and moved up to fourth in the midseason update. The 20-year-old actually made his major league debut earlier this year in an emergency spot start, but he’s been dominant in Triple-A despite being the youngest player at the level by more than a year. He features a strong mid-90s fastball, a biting curve, and a developing change. He’s working on his command and consistency, but he’s got a long way to go before he’s a finished, polished prospect, as he still can’t buy a beer.

Arodys Vizcaino, RHP, Braves
Also 20, Vizcaino has taken a big step forward this year that earned him a midseason promotion to Double-A. He’s put up an impressive 83 strikeouts compared to 24 walks in 84 innings combined between his two levels this season, earning him the 16 spot on BA’s midseason update. He’s got a mid-90s curveball, but it doesn’t have enough movement to really be considered major league ready at this point. However, he’s working on commanding an advanced curve that looks to be a solid out pitch, and also features a changeup with impressive potential. Vizcaino is a native of the Dominican and was acquired from the Yankees in the 2009 Javier Vazquez deal.

Wilin Rosario, C, Rockies
The Dominican Rosario is having a down year, possibly related to a knee injury sustained last August that required him to undergo surgery. After hitting an impressive .285/,342/.552 as a 21-year-old in Double-A last season, he’s managed only a .249/.286/.439 in the first half of 2011. Regardless, he’s got impressive power for a catcher, and flashes great defense and a solid arm behind the plate, and his skills were still strong enough to land him at 28 on BA’s midseason update.

Hak-Ju Lee, SS, Rays
Along with pitcher Chris Archer, Lee was a prize return in the offseason Matt Garza trade. A native of Korea, he’s having a great year at High-A in his first season in Tampa’s system, and the 20-year-old’s .330/.399/.458 line catapulted him from a preseason ranking of 92 to the 22 spot on BA’s midseason update. Lee plays solid defense at short and provides impressive offense from an up-the-middle position.

Jurickson Profar, SS, Rangers
Profar is the youngest player in this year’s Futures Game, as he only recently turned 18. Destined to become one of only a few MLBers from Curacao (others include Andruw Jones and Jair Jurrjens), Profar is incredibly polished for his age, with solid plate discipline, the ability to hit for some power, and potential Gold Glove defense. He’s currently the youngest player in any full season league, and his .270/.380/.488 earns him the 12 slot in BA’s midseason update.

Many of the players in the Futures Game will go on to long and productive big-league careers. While the All-Star game may have the names and the Derby has the flash, for many hardcore baseball fans the most important and exciting event of the All-Star festivities is the chance to see the sport’s best prospects sharing the stage.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The WAR All-Stars: NL

A continuation of my last post, these are the NL WAR All-Stars. Rosters for the All-Star team will be announced tomorrow. Troy Tulowitzki is almost certain to get the starting spot at short over Jose Reyes, and I can almost guarantee that I’ll go ballistic when he does. Reyes has been the best player in the NL, according to WAR, and no matter how you slice the data he’s had a better season than the Rockies’ shortstop. Anyway, let’s get to it.

Brian McCann, ATL
Miguel Montero, ARI

McCann is quite clearly the cream of the crop among NL catchers with Buster Posey out of the picture. Montero’s putting together a nice little season himself. Both are currently on pace to put up 5 WAR years, something no NL catcher managed to do in 2010.

First Basemen:
Prince Fielder, MIL
Joey Votto, CIN
Gaby Sanchez, FLA

Fielder and Votto stand out, a full win above any other first basemen. Votto’s taken a slight step back in the power department, but is otherwise offering quite the encore for his MVP 2010, while Fielder is setting himself up for a huge deal when he hits the market after this season. Sanchez has played in every Marlins game so far this year, and is breaking out in a big way. He’s already eclipsed the 2.3 WAR he put up in 2010, and we’ve got 80 games to go.

Second Basemen:
Rickie Weeks, MIL
Brandon Phillips, CIN
Danny Espinosa, WAS

Weeks is coming off a career year in 2010, and has been every bit as good in 2011. The Brewers are going to need their rotation to step up in the second half, but they’ll be in the running for the NL Central all the way. With the Cardinals, Reds, and surprising Pirates all playing good baseball, expect that to be the most exciting division race as teams begin the push for the playoffs after the All Star Break. Phillips is putting up his best year at the plate yet, as his 115 wRC+ would mark a career high. Espinosa has been contributing with the bat and glove, one of several players who has been exceeding expectations to keep the Nats from being truly awful without Steven Strasburg and with Ryan Zimmerman missing most of the year up to this point.

Third Basemen:
Ryan Roberts, ARI
Chase Headley, SDP

Big down year for NL third basemen with the aforementioned Zimmerman missing time. These are the only two players at more than two WAR, with Roberts at 2.1 and Headley at 2 even. Roberts has been something for a pleasant surprise for the Diamondbacks, as they expected Melvin Mora to man the hot corner. Mora was awful before being DFA’d earlier this week. Headley’s been very good at the plate, with an OBP of almost .400 (albeit with essentially no power), but after a positive blip last season UZR has reverted to hating him. A former left fielder, we’ll have to continue to watch how his defense at third rates in his second full year at the position.

Jose Reyes, NYM
Troy Tulowitzki, COL

Reyes has been the second best player in baseball this year, according to WAR. He’s also been the second best player named Jose. He’s on pace to hit the most triples of any player since Chief Wilson in 1912. Tulowitzki’s not having a bad year, by any stretch, but Reyes is going absolutely nuts.

Lance Berkman, STL
Andre Ethier, LAD

After an absolutely blistering start to the year, Berkman has cooled off somewhat, but his 169 wRC+ is still good for fourth in the league. Ethier is earning the reputation of being ridiculously consistent at the plate, as he’s been between 127 and 133 wRC+ every year since 2008, and is once again this season.

Matt Kemp, LAD
Andrew McCutchen, PIT
Shane Victorino, PHI
Ryan Braun, MIL
Justin Upton, ARI
Michael Bourn, HOU
Carlos Beltran, NYM

Kemp’s in the middle of a career year. Though his .367 BABIP is fairly high, his .347 career mark suggests there’s more skill than luck involved there, and his walk rate has taken a huge jump from last season. His big year looks like it’s for real. McCutchen is playing outstanding defense and has increased his power output from last year. It’s easy to forget he’s only 24, but he’ll be a stud in Pittsburgh for years to come. The Pirates are reportedly trying to get an extension done even though he’s still several years from free agency, and I don’t blame them. They can’t let him get away. Victorino somehow continues to be overlooked as a crucial part of the Phillies’ offense. While Utley and Howard get all the ink, he just keeps on producing. Braun’s 173 wRC+ is third in the NL, but he’s also been adding value on the basepaths. With 16 homers and 19 steals, he’s on a 30/30 pace. The knock on Upton was always his high strikeout rates, but he’s dropped his K rate by more than 10% since last season, fueling a career year at the plate. If he can keep it up, that would be a huge step towards fulfilling the expectations that come with being selected first overall in the draft. Michael Bourn is a base-stealing machine, and his career high .356 OBP is giving him the ability to use that motor on the basepaths more often than he has in the past. Beltran’s playing for a contract, and despite his arthritic knees, he’ll get a big one somewhere if he keeps showing that he still has 30-homer power to pair with solid on-base abilities.

Roy Halladay, PHI
Cole Hamels, PHI
Cliff Lee, PHI
Clayton Kershaw, LAD
Daniel Hudson, ARI
Tim Lincecum, SFG

The three Phillies aces currently are currently 1-2-3 among NL pitchers in WAR. We knew they’d be good, but we didn’t know they’d be this good. Kershaw leads NL pitchers with 9.87 K/9, while Lincecum is right behind at 9.77. Hudson’s been limiting his walks and inducing ground balls at a much higher rate than he had in his first two years in the bigs. He’s an ace in the making. Along with Ian Kennedy, the Diamondbacks may finally have the dominant duo at the top of the rotation they need to compete with Lincecum and Cain in San Francisco and Kershaw and Billingsley in LA.

Craig Kimbrel, ATL
Heath Bell, SDP
John Axford, MIL
Joel Hanrahan, PIT
Carlos Marmol, CHC
Jonny Venters, ATL
Eric O’Flaherty, ATL
Sean Marshall, CHC
Mike Adams, SDP

Several strong duos here essentially turn their contests into seven inning ballgames. Kimbrel and Venters lock down the eighth and ninth for the Braves. Bell and Adams in San Diego and Marmol and Marshall for the Cubs do the same on the rare occasions when their teams give them leads. Axford has been dominant, inducing more than 50% grounders when hitters put balls in play, and ensuring that they usually won’t by striking them out at an impressive rate. Hanrahan’s strikeout rate has dropped a bit, but he’s walking far fewer batters, inducing grounders at a higher rate, and keeping balls in the park better than he has in the past. O’Flaherty has been nearly as dominant as his two bullpen mates, giving the Braves the best bullpen in the majors.

I’m looking forward to the announcement of the All-Star rosters tomorrow. Though there are many flaws with the Midsummer Classic, that doesn’t mean watching the best in the game go head to head isn’t extremely enjoyable.